Texting: Ppl, Srsly, It’s OK 2 Uz TxtSpk Sumtimz

Texting: Ppl, Srsly, It’s OK 2 Uz TxtSpk Sumtimz
Updated on 8 July 2015

Text speak gets a bad rap.

It’s been pegged as barbaric, accused of ruining the English language, identified as a symbol of the millennial generation’s laziness, and perhaps worst of all, it’s been strung up as the next bad habit liable to rot kids’ brains.

That puts it in the same category as American English, according to Prince Charles, and rock ’n’ roll, according to conservative evangelical parents of the 1950s—two institutions that turned out pretty okay, according to the majority.

So then, is the phenomenon of using shortcuts, homophones, and the omission of non-essential letters in what’s usually but not exclusively digital communication really such a terrible thing?

Or for those fluent in text speak:

LOL. So then iz d phenomenon of UzN shortcuts, homophones & d omission of non-essential letters n what’s usu bt not exclusively digital cmUnik8shn rly such a terrible tng.

Researchers from Coventry University in England don’t seem to think so. In fact, they argue the contrary, asserting that text speak is actually beneficial to the way that children interact with language.

More specifically, after assessing primary and secondary school children annually for two years, they “found no evidence of a link between poor grammar when texting and the actual grammatical understanding of UK children.” What they did find was that “children’s use of text speak is not only positively associated with word reading ability, but it may be contributing to reading development.”

Children’s use of text speak is not only positively associated with word reading ability, but it may be contributing to reading development.

The astounding results motivated the Scottish Qualifications Authority to, in a shocking move, accept text speak on English tests as long as the answers demonstrated that students understood the subject. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority followed suit, giving partial credit for text speak answers that showed understanding but lacked grammatical correctness.

These über progressive boards still remain exceptions to the rule though. For the most part, it’s still expected that text speak make no cameo appearances on any kind of formal examination.

So when is text speak appropriate?

John McWhorter, an associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, would argue that this shorthand of sorts is fair game when you’re communicating in a manner that channels the speed and flow of typical conversations. That’s because he’s a firm believer that text speak is not so much a bastardization of our beloved written language, but a language of its own.

In a TED talk he delivered in 2013, he explains how “the miraculous thing” is developing its own grammar and conventions and should be more closely identified as “fingered speech” than as writing.

The big takeaway from his argument? People who use both text speak and formal written English are actually bilingual and can appropriately identify the contexts that warrant one or the other.

And while that may be true the majority of the time, text speak h8ters have jumped at the opportunity to point out the situations where those fluent in the new way of communicating have slipped up and inappropriately LOLed or YOLOed. So, for those new to the language, and also just to take it one step further and clarify when it’s okay to use text speak, we’ve put together a little litmus test as well as a few key tips.

How to figure out if using text speak in written communication is appropriate

”1” Think about this text speak golden rule: speak unto others as they would speak unto you.

This little maxim is all about context. Think about the person who you’re communicating with. Just like you wouldn’t parlez Français to a Chihuahua, you shouldn’t LOL at your grandmother’s lack of bilingualism or ROFL at your technologically challenged manager’s unfamiliarity with a language that you think is, OMG, gr8. If you don’t think someone shares your text speak knowledge, err on the side of conservatism.

Similarly, if you’re in an environment where there are generational gaps and hierarchies to be considered (read: the workplace), take the lead from others before dropping the text speak bomb.

”2”Think about wot yor trying 2 sA

As McWhorter so aptly notes, text speak is more like casual speech because it mirrors the loose, telegraphic eight- to ten-word packets that we converse in. If what you need to communicate demands longer, more reflective, more informative, or more analytical thought, then it probably lends itself to formal written English.

More specifically, other than in quick text messages, text speak can be great for instant messaging via apps like Skype and Slack that act as digital stand-ins for chirpy spoken exchanges (as long as you’ve ensured that the people who you’re communicating with comply with tip one). Same goes for social media posts on platforms with limited word counts, like Twitter.

Text speak can also be appropriate when you urgently need to communicate something fleeting, like the fact that you’re running late, via a more formal mode of communication, like email.

Tips for using text speak in written communication

If you’ve thought about the two points above and are confident that—ding, ding, ding—your situation has qualified for text speak use, then it’s still not a bad idea to consider a few best practice points. This especially holds true for using text speak in the business world, where communication can make or break a deal, a job opportunity, and more.

Only use text speak shortcuts that are widely known.

You still want to communicate clearly, after all. So using complicated acronyms like IYKWIM (If You Know What I Mean) or IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer) will only confuse people further.

Consider the tone of your message and think about using polite terms to soften things up.

As business etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach Jacqueline Whitmore advises, “Quick messages can make you come off as flippant or harsh. Instead of staccato phrases, write complete sentences. Add polite touches like ‘please’ (plz) and ‘thank you’ (tks).”

And of course, don’t text in all caps—it makes it seem like you’re screaming.

Don’t use text speak that you wouldn’t say out loud.

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s still good to point it out. If you wouldn’t give someone a gap-toothed grin and exclaim, “LOL. What the f*^&? Did you move the deadline forward? F*^& my life,” then you probably shouldn’t text them that either.

Try not overuse pragmatic particles.

A pragmatic particle is a linguistic term for a word or phrase that doesn’t add any semantic meaning to a sentence, but that still adds value in the way that it communicates attitude, shows empathy or adds structure to the interaction.

In text speak, LOL is an example of a pragmatic particle. People often use it even when nothing is funny or they’re clearly not laughing out loud. They do this to communicate light-heartedness and a positive tone.

Like difficult acronyms and abbreviations, pragmatic particles can be confusing for and misunderstood by those not as adept at text speak. So before defaulting to frequent use, think about the person you’re communicating with.

What’s it to you? Do you think there’s a case for situation-appropriate text speak, and do you agree with our points about when to use it? Share your opinion in the comments section below or via our Facebook page or Twitter feed.


Stephanie Katz is a San Francisco-based writer who, contrary to the way it may seem, won’t correct your grammar over beers, coffees or any other normal life interaction. She tells stories about health, history, travel and more and can be contacted via email at stekatz@gmail.com.

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